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South Sudan: NAS Rebel Leader Cirillo Reveals Sticky Points at Rome Negotiations

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NAS leader Thomas Cirillo

The leader of the holdout rebel outfit, National Salvation Front (NAS), Gen. Thomas Cirillo, told Radio Tamazuj in an interview that as much as they signed a cessation of hostilities agreement with the government under the auspices of the Rome Initiative, there are four contention areas.  

NAS, under the umbrella of the South Sudan Opposition Movements Alliance (SSOMA), has been holding talks with the Juba government mediated by the Community Sant’Egidio under the Rome Initiative for nearly two years now. 

The parties signed the Rome Declaration to stop hostilities and ceasefire, but clashes have intermittently flared up, mostly in areas of Central Equatoria State. 

According to General Cirillo, they signed a declaration of principles but the government rejected four main points which is an indicator that the latter is not interested in achieving peace through the talks. 

“We did not agree on the issue of border demarcation. NAS and its other allies (in SSOMA) said that the demarcation of the border should be per the borders of 1/1/1956, but the government in Juba refused and said that some tribes in the country do not recognize these borders,” Gen. Cirillo said. “This shows that the government uses the tribes to seize the lands of others according to their interests. NAS rejected the idea because the 1956 borders are stipulated in the Naivasha Agreement (of the CPA) and other agreements.” 

He said that the second point of disagreement is the definition of the war in South Sudan.

“NAS and its allies defined the ongoing war as a tribal-political war but the government in Juba refused and said it was a political war. We rejected the idea and insisted that it is a tribal-political war,” the NAS chief averred. 

He added: “The beginning of the war was tribal and certain sections of the Nuer ethnicity were targeted in Juba by elements that were supported by the government. Currently, there is a political-tribal war in South Sudan, and unless there is a real definition of the war, we cannot see progress in the (Rome) negotiations.”

Gen. Cirillo said the third point of contention is related to the permanent constitution and the procedures for drafting, signing, and ratifying it. He noted that NAS and its allies proposed that the permanent constitution be handled using grassroots and popular participation, but the government believes that the national assembly is responsible for ratifying the constitution. 

“We see that the people of South Sudan are the ones who have the right to create their constitution and there is no political organization that holds the power of the people and the constitution, so we disagreed with the government,” he added. 

The fourth point of departure according to Gen. Cirillo, is related to reforms in the military and other organized forces in southern Sudan.

“The government in Juba says that all the forces of the opposition movements are absorbed into the army controlled by a particular tribe,” Cirillo said. “NAS and its allies believe that there should be reforms by creating a national military institution that represents all the people of South Sudan to secure the country’s future.” 

He says that despite the suspension of the Rome talks, NAS is committed to continuing negotiations under the Rome Initiative. 

Concerning the security of NAS members in East Africa, Gen. Cirillo said, they did not obtain security guarantees for their leaders in East Africa.

Last year, SSOMA boycotted the Rome talks after one of their leaders was killed in Kampala. 

On joining the transitional government in Juba once they reach an agreement, he said that the end of the transitional period for the government in Juba is not the responsibility of NAS and its allies but emphasized that they are seeking the government’s acceptance of the front’s demands so that the people of South Sudan live in dignity. 

Gen. Cirillo accused the government of practicing the strategy of signing agreements with opposition movements to stay in power and continue persecuting the people of South Sudan. 

“We reject the idea and we want a peace agreement that addresses the root causes of the problem and the people’s demands for basic rights,” the General said. 

On the cessation of hostilities agreement being repeatedly breached, the NAS chief faulted Kiir’s government and the SSPDF.

“The government signed the agreement to stop hostilities as a maneuver to destroy NAS forces in our areas of control,” Gen. Cirillo said. “Momentarily and for the last three years, our positions are attacked to destroy and weaken the position of NAS during the negotiations until we sign an agreement to share positions.” 

He vowed: “We want to declare to the government that NAS will continue the struggle to liberate the people of South Sudan and achieve their rights.”

Gen. Cirillo said NAS has all the strategies, whether through negotiations or armed action, “but we believe that the peaceful way is better if the government has the will to accept the demands of the people of South Sudan.”

By: Radio Tamazuj

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